A leader of one of the largest independent Christian groups in Cuba fled to the United States last week after been granted parole, which gave him and his family emergency leave to enter the country.
Alain Toledano Valiente has been targeted by the Cuban government for over 20 years because of his leadership in the Apostolic Movement, a charismatic Protestant Christian network which the government has refused to register. On 25th June, Cuban State Security gave him a 30-day deadline to leave the country or face the possibility of long-term imprisonment.
Valiente and his wife, Marilín Alayo Correa, are the leaders of one of the largest churches in terms of attendees in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. Persecution watchdog CSW said over the past 20 years, the church building has been demolished twice by the government and both the pastor and his wife have been subjected to short term arbitrary detention numerous times.
In recent years, Valiente has been summoned repeatedly by the police, interrogated and threatened with imprisonment. His daughters have been the targets of bullying and violence at school, allegedly orchestrated by school officials with the backing of state security.
In October 2021, Cuban officials informed Valiente, that a criminal case against him had been prepared, meaning he could be arrested and imprisoned at any time. He has also been under an intermittent travel ban over the past four years.
In July 2019 he was blocked from boarding a flight to attend the United States Ministerial on International Religious Freedom, and was told he was banned from leaving Cuba due to national security concerns. And last month, he was stopped again from traveling to the US, this time to attend the Summit of the Americas where he was meant to participate in side events on freedom of religion or belief. Shortly thereafter, he was informed that the travel ban would be lifted on the condition that he leave the country within 30 days.
The pastor and his family received support from US based Organization Outreach to the Americas (OAA), which worked with US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussein, and the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, to obtain emergency parole for the pastor, allowing him safe entry into the country. Two of the pastor's adult daughters and their children remain in Cuba.
CSW's head of advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said: "We are glad that Pastor Toledano Valiente and his family are now in a safe place, but are saddened that they were forced by the Cuban authorities to leave their home under threat of his imprisonment because of his and his wife's leadership of an independent religious group.
"A choice of exile or prison is no choice it all; the international community must put pressure on the Cuban government to stop forcibly exiling anyone it views as unsupportive and to make meaningful reforms that guarantee freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief and other fundamental rights. The departure of Pastor Toledano Valiente and his family is a great loss not only for their religious community in Santiago de Cuba, but for Cuba as a whole. We pray that conditions will change to allow for their return to a free and democratic Cuba where the rights of all are protected."